By Eric Duran
Warm summer weather brings out the insects. Sometimes, this can be pretty annoying, as with the onset of mosquito season. Sometimes it’s beautiful and wondrous, such as the sight of butterflies fluttering around our flower beds.
Mosquitoes and butterflies aren’t the only insects that appear this time of year, however. A multitude of other six-legged creatures fly by, some of them strange and others quite gorgeous. This month we take a look at a few of the interesting insects which may visit you in your own backyard.
Our first back yard friend is a beloved beetle. Ladybugs, also known as Ladybird beetles, are voracious predators of other insects, such as aphids and scales. For this reason, they are often seen as beneficial insects for home gardens.
There are actually several species of ladybugs in our area, such as Asian ladybirds, two-spotted ladybirds, no-spotted ladybirds, the black with red spotted “cactus ladybird,” and even the pink and black “spotted ladybird.” Their familiar red and black coloration of the seven-spotted ladybird beetle is a warning to potential predators that they’re toxic, so don’t pop one in your mouth!
Our next insect is a “true bug” that makes itself known every summer through its loud courtship calls. Cicadas spend most of their time up in the trees, where they feed by sucking sap from the tree’s xylem, or woody tissue.
While you may not see the adult cicadas, it’s common to find the empty shells left behind on fence posts or tree trunks. These shells are the exoskeleton sheds left behind by the nymphs (immature insects) as they crawl out of the ground to finally emerge as winged adults. They spend their childhood underground, chewing on plant roots, for up to 17 years, depending on the species.
Only the male cicadas sing, using a structure called a tymbal, which is a recessed chamber with a membrane over it on the side of the body.
When most of think of bees, we think of honeybees, which were brought over to the U.S. from Europe. We do have quite a variety of native bee species here in North America, though. One of the more common backyard species is the Eastern Carpenter Bee, one of a few species of carpenter bee). They may resemble bumblebees, but live a somewhat different life. As the name would suggest, carpenter bees make nests by burrowing tunnels into dead wood. (By the way, bumblebees have a completely furry body, and carpenter bees only have a furry middle section, with a bare abdomen). Carpenter bees, unlike honey bees, live in colonies with adult males and multiple reproducing females.
Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to see some of these delightful little animals in your own backyard. If you’d like to learn more about them, come to one of our guided nature hikes, or bring your family to this month’s Family Nature Night about insects and other invertebrates on Wednesday, July 10. Pre-registration is required. Call us at 713-667-6550 or visit naturediscoverycenter.org to find out more.
Duran is the staff naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire.